The Basics of for Nonprofits [Tech Tips]

In this post I will breakdown some of the basics of for nonprofits.  In Heller Consulting’s recent paper on donor management applications, we covered the fact that Salesforce CRM, as natively designed, is meant to track business-to-business relationships and sales opportunities. But is a platform that is exciting to nonprofits for many reasons, so it’s important to go “back to basics” and understand what alterations have been made to make the platform attractive for everyday fundraising and other nonprofit needs. 

Be sure to remember that only in the nonprofit sector does “CRM” stand for Constituent Relationship Management — for-profits call it Customer Relationship Management. In this post, we’ll give you an overview of’s basic data structure and why it’s essential for nonprofits to understand how changing that one word can affect their use of and results from

Accounts and Contacts
At the heart of understanding how must be altered for nonprofit processes is the ACCOUNT and CONTACT Object model. Natively, is designed for a company’s sales processes: a corporate Account is related to individual Contacts (employees). Sales are related to an Account in via Opportunities. While the customer corporation’s Contacts may change over time, the record of the sales remains linked to the Account record with its Opportunities, which have a direct relationship within

For a nonprofit, however, this model must be adapted to allow for INDIVIDUALS (your constituents), who are not affiliated with corporations and give donations directly to your nonprofit, can change their relationship with your nonprofit over time, and often have many types of interactions with your nonprofit. Most nonprofit configurations of accomplish this in one of several ways:

  • Accounts also become HOUSEHOLDS with associated Contacts
  • Accounts are adopted to also represent people instead of simply businesses and organizations, with matching Contact records.  In this configuration, the Account and Contact records represent different facets of the information a nonprofit needs about an individual.
  • All contacts are associated with a single Account record, called “Individual.”

It is essential to understand the model your nonprofit configuration uses so that your organization can anticipate business cases such as how to produce one-per-household mailings, or report on household participation or giving.

Note that native has its own way of representing individuals, called Person Accounts; however, this strategy has not been widely adopted by nonprofit customizations for many reasons, which we won’t go into in this article.

In native, OPPORTUNITIES, as mentioned above, represent sales opportunities. This translates well to the fundraising idea of a PROPOSAL, making an attractive platform for major gift, planned gift, and grant fundraising: the native Opportunity status and pipeline reporting is excellent.

All fundraising configurations of need to develop a way to track actual cash donations received. Some do this by customizing the Opportunity to handle cash, check and charge. Others create custom objects to handle financial transactions and leave Opportunities alone to represent proposals of various types.  Each of these approaches has its own ramifications for reporting on your organization’s fundraising. It is important to understand your configuration and its Object relationships so that reports can be effectively designed.

For all nonprofits, it is critical to record the PURPOSE or DESIGNATION of donations. All nonprofit-specific fundraising configurations have developed a custom Object to handle the Designation of donations. It’s also important to understand how your configuration records designations, and how many fields are available on the Object to enable reporting to the General Ledger.  Because is constrained in reporting and analytics by the relationships between Objects, the placement of these designations within your platform also becomes critical.


These are just some of the basic needs and tradeoffs for nonprofits using Since is at heart a business-to-business tool, the basic Objects covered in this article are structured to support processes most critical to for-profit corporations. For nonprofits, processes with no clear for-profit counterpart must be built into by leveraging existing standard Objects, or creating new custom Objects. The more you understand the relationships between these Objects for your organization’s configuration of Salesforce CRM, the better prepared you’ll be to successfully implement it, and the greater success you’ll have with reporting.

Once you understand the underpinnings of the platform and its intended use, it becomes clear why isn’t a dedicated fundraising solution like The Raiser’s Edge®.  Nonprofits often turn to because they want both fundraising AND other functionality. And, this is where the power of the platform is immediately evident: For example, your organization wants to see fundraising and subscriptions to a magazine you publish, track fundraising and political actions, and integrate fundraising activities with a mass email tool. To the modern nonprofit, the ease of which Salesforce CRM can be configured, customized, and related to other applications in the Cloud is often as important as the functionality of a single fundraising solution.

In future posts, we’ll cover how you can best represent some of these activities and outreach efforts to your constituents, and the pros and cons (and responsibilities) engendered by a platform as easily customized and configured as


The Connected Cause is a place for experts in the nonprofit online space to share perspective, offer guidance and promote best practices for using today’s technology effectively. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of collaborative thought leadership for the nonprofit industry.


  1. Is there a list of standard reports that salesforce for nonprofits has? Is it the same as the list of reports for salesforce for businesses?

  2. Thanks for the article. I just started a new position and they use Salesforce here. I came from a large institution that used Raiser’s Edge 7. Do you know of any good resources for learning the differences and similarities between the two platforms?

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